While I followed John’s tractor from Brown Farm to Smith Farm last Sunday morning, I listened to National Public Radio’s “This I Believe “ segment where Paul Thorne was reading his essay, “Walking in the Light
.” His essay begins, “I don't want to be a God-fearing man. I believe in religion without fear.”
Thorne’s remarks reminded me of when I as a kid and heard a preacher yelling about sinners being cast into the fiery furnace. As I sat in that Williamson Road-area Baptist Church one Sunday in the early 1950s, I kept thinking of the coal furnace in my maternal grandparents’ basement. The furnace, the pile of coal, and the dark damp basement were pretty scary to a kid.
Sunlight shines into the darkness of the woods where I walked.
Anyhow, on that bright sunny Sunday morning a few days ago, I walked in the midst of creation where all I could see was green and growing. Then I sat under the walnut trees. I found comfort in gazing upon sky, trees, and grass in a place that my paternal grandparents bought over 90 years ago. I felt connected to them, the earth, and—I suppose—the universe. I felt awe and respect for the Creator, but not fear.
Along this treeline was once a path where my Granny Sallie walked to the spring each day. My grandparents lived here for almost fifty years until my grandfather died in 1959.
I also brought a book to read: Refuge
, by Dot Jackson. Smith Farm, I believe, is the perfect place to read Refuge
. A line from her book describes where I sat: “There had been a light drizzle of rain along in the night, and the woods were washed and tender and new.” (Refuge
, p. 106)
I’d met Dot
at the 2007 Appalachian Writers Conference. Refuge was the 2007 Appalachian Book of the Year. This “About the Author” factoid on Amazon.com and a few other websites gives a bit of info about Dot
Dot Jackson spent many years as a prizewinning reporter and columnist at the Charlotte Observer. During that time, she was also hard at work collecting a wealth of Appalachian stories and folklore, and weaving them into this novel written on an ancient typewriter in a haunted basement.The plot
: With her two children in tow, Mary Seneca Steele Lamb escapes her bad marriage and her stifling life in 1920’s Charleston, SC, and heads westward toward the family land she’s never seen and kinfolk she’s never met. Her father, who died when she was a child, had described both to her. Deep in Appalachia, she finds refuge and ultimately redemption. Seneca, of course, endures some misery, but she also finds love, joy, and comfort.
I won’t tell you anymore about the plot. For that, you have to buy your own copy
(though mine will be lent to a few close friends). I believe it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’ve read some good’uns. It’s even better than Lee Smith’s On Agate Hill
, another refuge-and-redemption book I’ve read lately.
I lived in Charleston, SC, for two years, and I believe I can relate to the “South of Broad” attitude that pervades some of Refuge
. Having inherited the family farm after my father died in 1969, I’ve come home to rural America, too. In the last few years, I met lots of kinfolk that I didn’t know I had. And I know something about the story behind the book
At the AWA conference, Dot told of how she wrote the book long ago, had almost despaired of finding a publisher, and finally found one—an elderly woman who still worked for Scribner. The book was partway through edits when the editor died and no one else was interested. Dot stuffed her manuscript under her bed
for fifteen years until a friend of hers said it wasn’t safe there (this was in the days before computers, remember) and said he’d keep it in his refrigerator. Refrigerators make good manuscript storage. The pages don’t deteriorate and the mice can’t get at them.
Anyhow, what would become Dot’s book spent years in the refrigerator until another friend of hers, who was connected with Novello Press, asked her about her manuscript. It was still safe in the refrigerator, so she retrieved it, Novello published it, and I read it. I loved it.
At the conference, Dot wouldn’t sell us any books. “You can get’em cheaper on Amazon,” she said. I bought the paperback edition
when it came out in April.
Thorne concludes his NPR essay, “The higher power I now pray to gives me love, joy and comfort. And I'm not afraid of him. I had to break away from the God I was supposed to believe in to find the God I could believe in.”
This I believe: If you think about it, you can probably connect Thorne's statement and Dot’s book and my time spent reading it last Sunday morning and refuge and redemption.
“We are all ignorant until we learn better. . . .” (Refuge, p.160)
Labels: nature, reading. writing